If you’re not a designer or are new to the wonderful world of book covers, you might look at my Project Questionnaire and be a bit overwhelmed by this question:
“5. Image size requirements. Please include resolution (generally 300 dpi for print, 72-115 dpi for digital images) and height/width requirements. If you intend to print, please list which service(s) you will be using, as well as formatted manuscript page count to ensure correct spine width in the cover layout. If page count is unknown, please give a rough estimate so initial work can begin.”
Here, I will elaborate on the information you’ll need to provide to any designer you want to hire to create something. This will relate specifically to cover design, as this is one of the most important things your artist will need from you.
First, resolution. Essentially, this is how many pixels (for screens) or dots (for print) are crammed into an inch of the image. Typically, for printing you’ll want 300 dots per inch (dpi), as anything less than this will result in a low-quality image that will look unprofessional and/or cheap. Think of the difference between a YouTube video and a Blu-Ray DVD of Planet Earth. It matters that much.
The standards for digital display are changing of late. Up until a year or two ago, 72 pixels per inch (ppi) was the baseline for all web images. With the evolution of HD monitors and retina display mobile devices, 115 ppi is becoming more common. As I saw someone state recently, sites like Pinterest and Tumblr are making a good quality digital image of your book cover more essential than ever. People are sharing links and images at an increasing rate, so you want the image others are sharing to be the best it can be. Resolution is crucial to this, but so is the other side of this coin: image size.
Now, you don’t want to blow up a potential reader’s screen with a 5000×5000 high resolution image of your fantastic novel, but you also don’t want the image to be so miniscule someone needs a magnifying glass either. Depending on where you’re putting this image, there are different sizes you’ll need. Amazon says “For best quality, your image would be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side” in talking about a 1.6 aspect ratio. Audible wants their cover images a square 1200 x 1200. All of these sites have strict guidelines or recommended sizes, so make sure you either 1) do a tiny bit of research or 2) know where to point your designer so they don’t have to guess. This is only what *I* request. Every designer or studio has their own requirements, so check before you just assume they know already. Knowledge is power. Not only will you feel more confident when hiring someone by knowing things ahead of time, you’ll come off looking super-professional and easy to work with to the people you’re paying.
Personally, I default to 4800×3000 when I’m creating the cover, and then I reduce it when I upload it anywhere. This means my clients would give Amazon a 2500×1563 image, usually at (my recommendation) 115 dpi.
Print sizes are a whole other animal. If I’m doing a print cover, generally it will be for someone using a print on demand (POD) service like CreateSpace or Lulu (and others as well). You absolutely must tell the designer which service you’re using as each has its own templates and requirements for covers. Lulu offers a ton of options as you can see here (scroll down to see the list of templates). CreateSpace is a bit easier to navigate, as you can see here. In this case, all the designer needs to know is interior type, trim size (how big it will be), what color of paper it will be, and how many pages the book is.
That last one is CRUCIAL. Before you know how many pages a book will be, the interior must first be laid out per site guidelines. If you don’t have this yet, the designer cannot create a finished cover for you. Number of pages will determine how wide the spine will be. Being off a page or two might not ruin the cover, but more than a few and you run into problems. This is why cover design should be the last thing you acquire before publishing. Yes, the artist can start working on concepts, but not providing this info immediately or very soon after hiring a designer can be frustrating to everyone involved. For ebooks, the page count doesn’t matter one lick. Hire away.
Clearly, I don’t mention every option for every type of book or audiobook here, but there are tons of resources out there that go into much more detail. Just remember, the key word in “self-publishing” is “self”. If this is a world you want to be a part of, there’s a lot to know, but the rewards can be great if you do it right.